The Horns (16-6, 6-2) must bounce back quickly from Saturday's home loss as they travel to College Station for a tough matchup with #8 Texas A&M (19-3, 7-1). The game will be televised by ESPN at 8 PM as part of their "Big Monday" lineup. Rick Barnes holds an impressive 14-3 mark against the Aggies since arriving in Austin, but the two teams split last season.
Like it or not, Texas A&M is one of the best teams in the country this year and winning in College Station will take a special effort on both ends. The Aggies are a perfect 15-0 at home and are coming off their biggest win of the season, a 69-66 win over Kansas in Lawrence. For the second game in a row, the Horns do not matchup well. Texas A&M is a physical and experience team with two post players who can score, a three point specialist, and an underrated point guard having an all conference season. Winning in College Station would easily surpass our win last week in Lubbock as the Horns' most impressive road victory of the season.
Texas A&M's Schedule
The Aggies started the season with seven straight home wins over inferior competition. They then left home to play then-#11 LSU in Baton Rouge and then-#1 UCLA in Los Angeles. Despite solid efforts, the Aggies dropped both contests. They finished non-conference play by winning their next five, four of which were at home, and entered Big 12 play at 12-2.
A&M began conference play with a home victory over Kansas State, road wins at Baylor and at Colorado, and with another home win over Oklahoma State. Their only conference loss came at Texas Tech on January 24th. Since then, they have run off three more wins, two at home over Oklahoma and Iowa State, and the previously mentioned huge win at Kansas. The Aggies currently stand alone in first place in the conference at 7-1.
According to Ken Pomeroy's ratings, Texas A&M is the third best team in the country. They are also one of only two teams ranked in the top ten in both adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency. The Aggies are ranked as the tenth most efficient offensive team and the fifth most efficient defensive team. Texas is ranked as the 34th best team overall (8th most efficient on offense and 94th most efficient on defense).
Texas A&M's Roster
Like Texas, the Aggies rely heavily on their starting five and really only go seven or eight deep. Texas A&M is led by senior point guard Acie Law (6'3" 195). Law is having an all conference final season for Coach Gillespie. He is averaging 19.5 ppg and 3.88 apg, good for second and sixth in the conference respectively. Law shoots the ball well from the perimeter, can take his man off the dribble, rarely turns the ball over, and isn't afraid to take the big shot. He is without question the heart and soul of the Aggies. Whether we play man or zone, keeping Law out of the lane will be essential for any chance at an upset win.
The other backcourt starters are Josh Carter (6'7" 195) and Dominique Kirk (6'3" 180). Carter is a deadly three point shooter (46%) who can really make a lazy or small 2-3 zone defense pay. Kirk is more valuable as a defensive player than an offensive one. He will likely be asked to limit DJ Augustin's penetration or AJ Abrams' open looks from three.
If defending Law and Carter wasn't enough to worry about, there are two more legitimate threats to score in the post. Junior Joseph Jones (6'9" 250) is averaging 13.9 ppg and nearly eight rebounds per game in conference play. He has the body to bang down low and score in the paint and also the touch to score facing the basket from the high post. Antanas Kavaliauskas (6'10" 250) is the last Aggie starter. He is also a threat to score on the low blocks but is not as polished a player as Jones is. Both Jones and Kavaliauskas are solid defensive rebounders but aren't as effective on the offensive glass. The Texas post defense will be severely tested tonight.
Marlon Pompey (6'8" 225) and Bryan Davis (6'9" 245) are two more physical post players who could play roles off the bench. Donald Sloan (6'2" 210) is the only backcourt sub likely to see much action.
Texas A&M By the Numbers
The Aggies prefer a slow, half court game and have only allowed one opponent (Texas Tech) to score even 70 points in a single game. The Aggies are an outstanding defensive club. In raw statistics, they rank first in scoring defense (60 ppg), first in field goal percentage defense (37.8%), and second in three point field goal percentage defense (31%) in Big 12 games. Using Ken Pomeroy's advanced metrics, they are just as good: fifth in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency and first in the nation in effective field goal percentage. Their offense has been equally impressive. Texas A&M ranks 10th in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency and seventh in the nation in effective field goal percentage.
The Aggies are a solid rebounding club on the defensive end but not as effective on the offensive end. They are second in the conference in defensive rebounds per game (25 rpg) but next to last in offensive rebounds (8.63 rpg). Some of that can be explained by their high field goal percentage (46%). If you aren't missing many shots, there aren't as many offensive rebounds to be grabbed.
Prediction / Horns' Objectives
Push It. Overall, I don't like our chances, but in a half court game I really don't like our chances. We will not win playing five on five for the full 40 minutes. First, our half court execution is not very good and second, the Aggies excel at half court defense. The first step to an upset is pushing the pace. The Horns must try to run off misses and even off made baskets. A&M looked exhausted in the second half in Lawrence, and Coach Gillespie was forced to extend the game by using multiple timeouts. Even though we don't have a deep bench, we will have a significant advantage in an up and down game. Jones changes ends about as fast as Dexter Pittman.
Force Turnovers. This one goes right along with the first key. Texas must come up with some steals when we play man defense and convert defense into easy offense. Law is an excellent ball handler and the only perimeter Aggie player who can create his own shot. The more we keep the ball out of his hands, the more likely we are to create some Aggie turnovers.
Stay out of Foul Trouble. Barnes is again faced with a dilemma: do we stay in man defense in an effort to create turnovers and push the tempo, yet risk getting Durant in foul trouble, or do we play zone, probably play at a slower pace and not create as many turnovers, yet limit the opportunities for Durant to pick up fouls? I'm not sure I know the answer. A lot will depend on how the game is being officiated. If the refs are allowing a lot of contact, then we should play man, but if the refs are calling a tight game, then we probably will see a lot of zone. Losing Durant to the bench with early foul trouble would be devastating. Either way, our best chance for an upset rests with our starting five plus Connor Atchley. We won't be able to survive if Augustin or Durant is in foul trouble.
Find Carter. Texas will not be able to defend Jones or Kavaliauskas one-on-one. Help will have to come from whoever is guarding Kirk, who is the Aggie's weakest offensive player. Texas cannot afford to double down off Carter. He has made eight threes in a game twice already this season.
The Aggies are easily the best team we have played this year, and it will take a near perfect game to pull off the upset. There is no way we win in a half court game and in order to force the tempo, we must play man. But we don't matchup well man-to-man. Unless Atchley is on the floor along with Durant and Damion James, KD must guard one of the Aggie big men. While Durant's defense is improved, he won't be able to control either of the bigger, strong Aggie post players by himself. Durant is also likely to pick up fouls in the defensive low post. If we aren't able to dictate tempo, don't be surprised to see Dexter Pittman in the first half. Also, in a man defense, Augustin will probably have to guard Law. It may be asking too much for Augustin to guard their best perimeter player on defense and also try to push the ball back up the court as much as possible. Augustin is likely to get tired on defense and not be as effective penetrating on offense, like he did against Baylor while guarding Aaron Bruce.
Don't get me wrong, I will be rooting hard for the Horns tonight. Maybe we get their big men in foul trouble, or maybe we are able to play up-tempo, or maybe the Aggies suffer through a cold shooting night, or maybe Durant just wills us to victory. All are possible, but none are likely. Horns drop their second straight, 68-60.